4 Tips to Elevate Your College Essay

In this article, Mel B., a former UT Austin adcom member and current Leland coach, shares four invaluable tips to take your college essay from ordinary to exceptional.

Mel B.

By Mel B.

Posted October 30, 2023

As a former admissions counselor, the essay portion was always my favorite part of the application to review. This is an opportunity to get to know the applicant outside of their GPA and test scores while truly understanding who they are as a person. I am confident that most admissions staff members would agree with me.

Though the task of writing an essay can be daunting, don’t let it be the reason you are not admitted to a college. When I was applying to undergraduate institutions, I poured my heart into an essay about a sock. I thought it was an awesome essay, and so did my English teacher (she kept the essay as an example to show other students how to write unique essays). It was an odd subject, but I have no doubt that it stood out.

In my past 9+ years working in higher education, I have learned a thing or two about writing a strong essay. Below are four tips to support you as you prepare your applications.

Tip #1: Start Early

Don’t procrastinate. Even if you’re a strong writer, the essay portion can take a lot of time. Before the application goes live, think about the type of story you want to tell. I encourage you to keep a note or journal of possible themes and stories that you could share during your essay. As soon as the application goes live, review the essay prompts and see which of your stories and ideas best align with the essay you are being asked to write.

Feeling uninspired? Ask those you are close to if they have any favorite memories with you or how they would describe you to a stranger.

Tip #2: Seek Support

Speaking of starting early, ask for help well in advance. Think about someone you trust - a teacher, counselor, family member, or friend - and ask them if they would be willing to review your essay. Make sure it is someone who can be completely honest with you. At the same time, make sure you are open to feedback and hearing constructive criticism. Having someone else read your essay can have huge benefits - even if it is just to spell check!

Tip #3: Stand Out

Consider the admissions committee’s perspective - what are you going to bring to their institution? While you’re evaluating essay topics, think about how you can sell yourself. It can be helpful to consider the following questions:

  • What did you learn from that situation/person/place?
  • How will you bring what you learned to the institution?
  • How will you leave the institution better than you found it?

Pro tip: Visit campus (in-person or virtually)! This will help you fully understand the institution and its values, which will enhance the ways you communicate the value of having you join the student body.

Tip #4: Be Original

Have you ever thought about the most popular essay topics? Regardless of the prompt, it is safe to assume that there are thousands of college applications written annually on an ACL injury, a divorce, and as of recently, COVID-19. There’s nothing wrong with writing about these topics; I say this so that if you do write about them, you understand that it will not be the only essay on that topic your admissions counselor will read about today.

If you want to write about these topics, then do it. Write the best essay ever. However, do not feel pressured to write about something sad or traumatic that has happened to you. Utilize this as a time to reflect on your experiences and what is important to you.

Writing your college essay can be overwhelming, but I would encourage you to flip your mindset. Look at this as an opportunity rather than an obligation. How are you going to use this as a chance for the admissions committee to learn something about you that they don’t already know? This is your chance to shine.


Mel B. is a former UT Austin adcom member with years of experience working with prospective students at Stanford and NYU. Schedule a FREE intro call with Mel B. today to nail your college applications!

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